Voters are understandably sick of this presidential campaign, which has seen a torrent of attack ads, acidic exchanges, accusations, and preposterous charges that everything is rigged. It’s been an election to make one grimace each and every time she or he turns on the TV.
Those hoping for a return to normality (or normalcy, as Warren Harding would have it) on Nov. 9 should be outraged at what’s already being said by congressional Republicans.
This week, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Representative Mike McCaul of Texas both raised the specter of impeachment if Hillary Clinton is elected. Johnson contends that Clinton could be impeached over her use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state, which he maintains qualifies as a high crime or misdemeanor. McCaul, who has called Clinton’s e-mail practice “treason,” says that if Clinton is elected and “it looks like an indictment is pending,” the House should move forward with impeachment proceedings.
That talk isn’t just irresponsible; it demonstrates a contempt for the due process of law. Clinton, of course, hasn’t been charged, let alone convicted, of any crime. And though the FBI recently announced it was reviewing more recently discovered e-mails, there’s no indication — or indeed, good reason to believe — Clinton will face prosecution as a result.
We’ve seen the same kind of democracy-denying machinations when it comes to the US Supreme Court. Since the February death of Antonin Scalia, the high court has labored with eight members rather than nine. President Barack Obama tried to remedy that by nominating Merrick Garland, an eminently qualified moderate jurist. Senate Republicans, however, refused to grant Garland a formal hearing, let alone a vote. The Republican plan has been to put off any action on the Supreme Court vacancy until after the election, in the hope that Donald Trump will win and nominate someone more conservative than Garland. To that end, they’ve insisted that voters deserve a chance to weigh in before Scalia’s seat is filled.
Senate Republicans have gotten away with that short-term obstruction. And now some are suggesting that, if Clinton wins, they may try to block any Supreme Court appointment for the next four years. That idea has been rumbling around in conservative circles for some time; in recent days, it’s been picked up by Senator, and failed Republican presidential candidate, Ted Cruz of Texas. “There is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices,” Cruz said recently, adding that “that’s a debate that we are going to have.” Nor is he the only one bruiting about that notion. “If Hillary Clinton becomes president, I am going to do everything I can do to make sure, four years from now, we still got an opening on the Supreme Court,” Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, recently told a group of Republicans.
Put another way, Cruz and Burr are saying voters really have a right to weigh in only if they elect Trump president. Some democracy.
Other Republicans, meanwhile, have vowed to continue the partisan witch hunts that have masqueraded as congressional investigations since Republicans took control of the House. Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, says that if Clinton does win, his committee already has several years of investigations lined up, focusing on her time as secretary of state. “It’s a target-rich environment,” he says.
All of this shows that some Republicans are simply unwilling to accept as legitimate the election of a Democratic president. That mindset and those machinations put the idea of party and political cause above country, comity, or Constitution, and in so doing, are profoundly corrosive to democracy. This political behavior needs to stop. But that will happen only when voters recognize what’s happening here and send a distinct message — by calls or e-mails or votes — that they will no longer tolerate this kind of endless hyperpartisanship.